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By Hugh Boag
Plans to move Brodick Nursery into the village primary school have met with opposition amid claims the school is already ‘bursting at the seams’.
As exclusively reported in last week’s Banner, North Ayrshire Council plans to spend £300,000 setting up a council-run early years centre at Brodick primary.
It follows the decision by the parent-run Brodick Nursery to reluctantly announce it is to close at the end of June 2022 as Brodick Hall, where it meets, remains unsuitable for its expanded service.
Council officials unveiled the plans to nursery parents at a public meeting in Brodick Hall last Thursday night attended by less than 30 people.
But there was immediate concern that the school was already ‘bursting at the seams’ and could not take another facility.
However, council officials insisted a full feasibility study had been carried out and it had been determined this was the best option given the shortage of time.
The new early years classes will have to be up at running at the school by August 2022.
Officials insisted that the plans were merely a proposal at this stage and they admitted they had not yet discussed them with the school management, the primary school parents or the wider community.
While Brodick Hall was unsuitable for long-term use by the nursery, even with the previously planned alterations, the problems have been exacerbated by the extension of nursery hours to 1,140 per year – giving children 30 hours a week during term time.
Chairman of Brodick Nursery parent committee Jenny Duncan, who outlined the recent turbulent history of the nursery as it tried to survive, said the committee had previously hoped to convert Brodick Hall for its own needs and that of others users.
However, despite the support of North Ayrshire Council, it would have had to raised £250,000.
However, the Covid pandemic stalled any progress and it was further derailed when the council approved that Brodick Hall could be taken over in a Community Asset Transfer which Mrs Duncan said meant that the nursery couldn’t do anything or touch any funding.
As yet no group has come forward to express any interest in transferring the facility to the community and it will be reassessed in 18 months.
She said there had been a ‘silver lining’ during the pandemic as the nursery was able to offer 1.140 hours to children, other early years classes on the island could not, as it had sole use of Brodick Hall, as no one else could use it.
Mrs Duncan said the nursery had taken the difficult decision to announced it was to close in June next year as it was nearing the January 2022 deadline for enrolment for next term.
Council officials said it was that decision which had sparked the council to act and, in discussion with the nursery staff and parents, come up with the plan being presented.
Lynn Taylor, senior manager education, said: ‘The plan is in the very early stages and everyone who has an interest will have a say.’
She described the early years provision in Brodick as ‘really high quality’ and said it was remarkable that the nursery had continually operated for nearly 50 years.
And it was to keep that continuity, she said, that the council wanted to hire manager Aileen Brand and existing staff to run the new council nursery.
Officials explained the £300,000 budget would be used to convert the existing school buildings to accommodate around 18 to 20 nursery children.
They said that while they did not yet have detailed plans the council had a ‘dedicated architect’ working on 41 similar projects across the region and that a ‘high level feasibility study’ had been carried out into the Brodick plan.
Officials said they wanted to spend the next few months engaging with the Brodick primary school leadership and parents as well as the wider community.
However, they insisted that a formal consultation was not required as the 1,140 hours of nursery education was required under law for every child in Scotland.
Ms Brand was asked how the nursery felt about the plan and she said: ‘It really is a milestone. The staff are all delighted.’
Mrs Duncan added: ‘All we ever wanted was the security of early years provision in Brodick.’
Grandmother Sheila Gilmore, who has been involved in the nursery for more than 40 years, asked if the council had taken into consideration the 34 new council houses which had just been allocated in Brodick and hoped the move to the school was not just a short-term solution.
But officials insisted the numbers were the least they would have and would be building on these numbers.
However, several parents expressed concern that the school was already tight for space and asked if other options had been explored.
One parent asked why the £300,000 budget could not be used to keep the nursery in Brodick Hall, with the conversions required, given it had far more outside space than was available at the school.
Parents at the meeting also expressed concern that they had been given little time to consider the plans and there was not a level playing field, but officials said that they remained ‘open minded’, however, admitted that there was a constricted timetable for the proposals.
The officials concluded that they believed the transfer of the nursery to the school was the only ‘viable and sustainable solution’ and that it was felt the best option bringing everyone under the same roof and it offered a smooth transition from early years to primary school.